Teaching is a critical skill for engineers – but it’s undervalued by most of us. Engineers rarely consider teaching to be part of their education or personal development. And it’s rarely taken into account in a company’s hiring criteria. Yet teaching comes up often in daily engineering tasks: training new people, writing documentation, reviewing code, etc. Most of us work on a project with multiple engineers – so we’ll need to teach others how to use a function, library, or other component that we’ve written. Every time your organization makes a hire, the new person will need, at very least, to learn your specific code, tools, and processes. You’ll need to teach.
Personally, I didn’t make much of an effort to develop my teaching skills during high school and college. I thought that being a teaching fellow (TF) for a course would take a lot of my time. While I’d develop a greater mastery of the course material, TFing would take up time that I could otherwise spend working on new projects or learning new material. . I failed to consider how the experience of being a TF would give me skills in lecturing, mentoring, reviewing work, and relating with students that could later prove invaluable – even if I didn’t pursue a career in academia. With the benefit of hindsight, I’d encourage any student is to seek out such opportunities .
Talk to Teach
There are many opportunities for engineers to give talks or presentations about their technical work. Often, people approach these talks as a way to demonstrate what they’ve done and how much they know. That’s understandable – we all want respect from our colleagues.
But I’d propose that you’ll gain more respect – and be more effective – if you view those talks as an opportunity to teach others rather than merely demonstrate your own expertise. Whether you’re giving the talk at a conference or internally to your company, you should use your talk to teach others something new. While it’s fine to impress upon the audience the rigor of your subject, I’d argue that it’s more impressive if you can make that topic accessible and understandable despite that complexity.
In a good organization, an engineer has numerous times when he’s called upon to evaluate the work of others. At Tuenti, we practice 360-degree evaluations – and peer evaluations form a hugely valuable part of that picture. On a daily basis, we expect engineers to review each other’s code and provide timely feedback.
Recognize these as teaching opportunities; try to understand where the gaps are in the other person’s knowledge and determine how you can help them fill those gaps. Recognize that how you offer the feedback – tone, concision, frequency – matters.
Ultimately, as engineers, we must recognize that teaching is an inherent part of what we do. We build, but we also need to teach others how to use what we build – and how to become builders themselves.